Carusone At Bat

August 24, 2005

It's Gonna Be a Hot One, Folks

By John Carusone

Mayor Carl Amento is running against former legislative council president and state Rep. Craig Henrici for an unprecedented fourth term -- a milestone never reached before. Former Democratic Mayor Bill Adams was defeated by Republican challenger Lucien DiMeo in 1973 when he ran for his fourth term. DiMeo was defeated by Dick Harris in 1979 when he ran for his fourth term. And Democrat Lillian Clayman met the same fate when she was defeated by Republican Barbara DeNicola.

Amento has to deal with the same political realities as his predecessors -- a three-term mayor has a high negative rating. This year appears to be no different. A poll taken by Henrici showed Amento's negative rating is high. From a political point of view, Henrici has to show voters what he has to offer as an alternative to Amento.

I am reminded of political advice my father gave me when he ran for the RTM, Hamden's first representative government, in 1953. He said, "Always tell people what you are for; they know what they are against."

That means always run a positive campaign. So far, even though it is early in the campaign, Henrici has yet to present his plans for Hamden, appearing to depend on Amento's high negatives to win the primary.

Amento seems to be following the sage advice of Democratic legend John Bailey. In 1966 I had an opportunity to meet Bailey when he came to Hamden for a political affair. I had been invited to the event, as I was the only Democrat elected in the Republican landslide of 1965. I had an opportunity to ask Bailey what makes a successful politician. Bailey responded by asking me what position I held. I responded, and without hesitation he responded, "Do your job."

Clearly what he meant was to do the best possible job I could do. The "politics" will take care of itself.

Amento has issued a series of press releases, each presenting a positive spin on positions he is taking. The expansion of Brooksvale, road paving, middle school progress and the status of Hamden's credit rating with bonding agencies. The latter deserves some mention here. Under Amento, Hamden's credit rating has been lowered -- the second time in eight years. Amento held a meeting with the credit agencies with the obvious goal of getting the agencies to raise the rating. They didn't, opting to keep the rating exactly the same. An Amento press release gave the impression that this was a financial plus for his administration.

This was weakly challenged by Henrici campaign manager Matt Fitch.

Amento's purchase of a 20-year-old building to house Hamden's government made no financial, logical or historical sense. As the campaign heats up I believe it will become quite negative. The outright animosity on both sides is something I have never seen before. They don't like each other, and that does not bode well for the public.

Henrici's first campaign mailing reminded me of the 1979 Dick Harris campaign. Harris had also been inactive for a number of years when he decided to run for mayor. He took a poll that showed an 11 percent recognition rate, but of that total he had an 80 percent favorable rate. Harris sent out a brochure showing his very impressive accomplishments that led him to ultimate victory over incumbent Lucien DiMeo.

Henrici's polling data reflected the same initial conclusions as Harris'. His first mailing was a carbon copy of the Harris mailing. Time will tell if it is to be as successful as the Harris mailing.

John Carusone was mayor of Hamden from 1987-1991, assistant school super from '69-'82 and a legislative councilor from '65-'69. The Hamden native is now retired but stays active in town affairs -- and has a lot to say about them. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

August 18, 2005

The Hole Truth

By John Carusone

The recent lawsuit regarding the Veteran's Monument deserves some comment here. (It was thrown out of court July 19, 2005.) For the historical record, my administration in 1988 dedicated the former seventh hole of the Meadowbrook Golf Course to be the permanent home of the Veteran's Monument. This action was taken by a special permit to the Planning and Zoning Commission. The commission unanimously approved the special permit. The entire hole was to be used for the tribute.

The monument itself was to be only a part of the entire complex. The remaining area was to be used by veterans' families who wished to place a ground plaque, a shrub, a bench or any appropriate item as a remembrance of a fallen soldier. The site also contained a parking area for those who wished to stop to visit. While the town owned the land the veterans retained sole control over what went on it.

This Hamden tradition goes back to 1924 when the Memorial Town Hall was constructed. The rotunda inside Town Hall, which contains the names of war dead, was placed under the sole control of the veterans. The same concept applies to Freedom Park across the street from the Town Hall. All of this has been Hamden's way of showing respect to our veterans who served so nobly in time of war.

The Amento Administration decided to do away with nearly a century of tradition by allowing portions of the new middle school to be constructed on the site, thereby eliminating any chance for a family who wished to install some approved item on that site. Also the parking area has been eliminated so that a family who wished to visit the site cannot do so now.

This was the basis of veteran Ron Bergami's suit with the support of the local Veteran's Council. The suit was lost on a decision that totally ignored Hamden's traditions. The mayor's attitude to all of this parallels the philosophy of Henry Ford: "History is bunk … there is no such thing as tradition." This administrative action is an unbelievable insult to the 8,000 veterans whose names are inscribed on the monument. And certainly to those veterans whose names are followed by a gold star.

Ron Bergami spoke for them. I do not believe the mayor knows many of the families whose names are there with the stars. I hope he has spoken to Hamden's tax collector, Barbara Tito, whose brother Ed Duel died in Vietnam, or to the Robertson family whose son and my classmate Pierce Robertson also died there.

Just last month, veteran Ray Calandrella (a participant in D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge, and a POW) while on his sickbed at the VA implored me to do whatever I could to keep the site sacred. Although legally blind, he said he'd be willing to sign a petition supporting the veterans' lawsuit. Ray was an invited guest when we broke ground in 1988. He died in July.

I invite all residents to drive by the site and witness the tragedy taking place there. Can you imagine if the president of the United States decided to build on any of the war memorials in Washington? Yet that's what is happening in Hamden.

John Carusone was mayor of Hamden from 1987-1991, assistant school super from '69-'82 and a legislative councilor from '65-'69. The Hamden native is now retired but stays active in town affairs -- and has a lot to say about them. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

August 11, 2005

Let the Games Begin

By John Carusone

"Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue" -- this seems like an appropriate way to introduce my weekly column, "Carusone At Bat." The "at bat" is in recognition of my athletic career that is still active, where I have earned many kudos, the latest being inducted into the Connecticut Slo-Pitch Hall of Fame.

My aggressive play on the field coupled with my lifelong interest and involvement in politics and government would appear to be the "right stuff " for a weekly column. My column will be straightforward, opinionated, informative, sometimes provocative and humorous.

Yes, there is humor in politics. I can recall how an area first selectman not known for his intellectual prowess stumbled at a Veteran's Day ceremony. His trusted aides had written a flowery bit of prose designed to celebrate the day. At the conclusion of the first page the aide had noted "see back" as a reminder to the selectman to turn over the page. The selectman dutifully read the first page and then to the surprise of those attending read "see back" as he turned the page. There were many restrained chuckles that day.

In this column, I'll tackle politics and government at all levels, the state of journalism today, athletics, personalities, past and present campaigns, some historical analogies (the more things change, the more they stay the same) and more. I also intend to make endorsements when I believe it is in the best interest of the town.

I am reminded of a political maxim that states: "Man (hopefully generic) goes into politics with a fine future, but comes out with a terrible past." I suppose former Gov. John Rowland fits that definition, but I will point out that many political leaders in Hamden do not fit that bill. Many of my columns will be designed to teach because my varied experiences over the years have made it clear that knowledge of the past is, perhaps, our greatest asset when it comes to politics and government.

The Roman Cicero said it best when he declared: "Without a knowledge of history we will always be children." Opposed to that philosophy is that of industrialist Henry Ford who stated: "History is bunk. The only thing that matters is what is happening today. There is no such thing as tradition." It should be pointed out that with that philosophy, Ford lost its once dominant market position never to regain it.

But now let's get on with the Democratic primary between incumbent Mayor Carl Amento and challenger Craig Henrici. Amento won the party nomination in a squeaker, edging out Henrici 32-30 -- not a good sign for an incumbent. The under-ticket had a confusing outcome with some incumbents winning and some being ousted. More on the underticket later.

It could be that Republican mayoral candidate Dick Reilly could be the beneficiary of the Democratic infighting in the November election. I will follow the Sept. 13 primary closely as it appears it will be a no-holds-barred one that could benefit Republicans.

John Carusone was mayor of Hamden from 1987-1991, assistant school super from '69-'82 and a legislative councilor from '65-'69. The Hamden native is now retired but stays active in town affairs -- and has a lot to say about them. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

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